An Open and Shut Case

In which The Author doesn’t do his civic duty

My regular readers will already know that I was called for jury service some time ago. I thought I’d let you know how it went.
My first day was last Wednesday, so I arrived bright and early at Merthyr Tydfil Court expecting an exciting day of courtroom drama. After going through a security check, I found my way to the waiting room. I was one of fifteen people who’d been summoned; there was another group who’d sat on a previous case, and who’d returned to hear the judge pass sentence.
One of the ushers came in for them, so the rest of us chatted nervously until another staff member came in and checked our names against her list. She turned out to be Sharon, whom I’d spoken to on the phone when I queried my travelling expenses the week before.
After watching a DVD which explained the whole process, we sat around chatting until just after midday. The coffee machine wasn’t working, and I was glad I’d taken a packed lunch with me, as there isn’t a canteen on site. We were starting to wonder what was going on.
Sharon came in again, only to tell us that the defendant had changed his plea to guilty. That meant that we weren’t needed for the rest of the day. It was a bit of an anticlimax, so we went our separate ways – in fact, I went exploring using my bus ticket, as I told you in Have Megarider, Will Travel.
On Thursday morning we gathered again, and sat around for ages while we waited for something to happen. It was quite some time after midday when a different member of staff came in. She apologised profusely, explained that there’d been a lot of confusion in the office, and told us we weren’t needed again until Monday.
I quoted the comedian Andy Hamilton’s line about CPS being an abbreviation for ‘Couldn’t Prosecute Satan’, which amused everyone, and we parted company again. I took advantage of this unexpected day off to explore again (see On the Border).
On Monday morning we were back together again. This time I had the faintest sniff of some action. We were taken to another room, where the jurors would deliberate their verdict after the trail, and sat around for a while before being called into court.
I was one of fifteen ‘jurors in waiting’, of whom twelve would be selected to sit on the case. I was quite excited when my name was called to take my place with the others. It didn’t last. As soon as the list of witnesses was read out, I registered that several names were ‘from the Aberdare area.’ I’m a sociable guy, and Aberdare’s a fairly small town.
I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that I knew one of the people involved. I mentioned it to the usher on the way back to the jury room, and she told me that I’d been challenged for the same reason. Needless to say, I had to withdraw from the jury.
At the end of the day, I phoned the number I’d been given, and a recorded message told me that I wasn’t needed on Tuesday.
I used the last day’s worth of Megarider to explore the eastern valleys for a few hours, and rang the number again after close of play. I wasn’t needed on Wednesday either, and I was starting to wonder whether I’d get called at all.
Late on Wednesday afternoon I rang the number again and was told that I was needed for the following morning. That left me in a bit of a fix, as I didn’t have the cash to travel over. Luckily Gaz was able to sub me a fiver, and was highly amused when I told him of my adventures so far.
I went back to Merthyr yesterday, where my former colleagues were ready to resume the case which I’d been excused from. The other jurors in waiting were made up of some people who’d already sat in one (or more) cases, and a few strangers. Some of the new faces had previously been at Cardiff Crown Court; one chap had come from Newport, another from Porthcawl, and one lady had travelled up from Barry. They were approaching the end of their fortnight, and asked the usher whether they could be released without going into a third week – both had work commitments that they couldn’t easily miss.  With this in mind, I began to think that I might really have my chance to do my civic duty.
We were taken down to the jury room, and from there to the court. When the list of names was read out again, I started to worry. The case revolved around Mountain Ash, and even if I didn’t recognise the names, there was a good chance that I’d have known someone involved. This time, my name wasn’t even called.
I returned to our waiting room, in case one of the jurors was challenged. I sat on my own with a good book through the lunch hour, until Sharon came in and told me that they wouldn’t need me after all. They don’t start new cases on a Friday, and since I only had two days lined up for next week, she told me that I was ‘discharged’ and could go home.
The whole thing was a bit of an anticlimax, to be honest. On the plus side, I was able to finish one book, read another one, and make substantial headway on a third. I was also able to take advantage of the fine weather and visit some places which I wouldn’t have gone to under normal circumstances. On the minus side, I didn’t get a chance to do something which I’d wanted to do ever since I first became eligible, over thirty years ago.
I should get my travelling expenses and subsistence (£5.71 for each day I was there) ‘within three to five working days’, apparently. Well, using the amount of work that doesn’t go on in their offices as a benchmark, it should come in handy for Xmas. I’ll keep you posted…
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